Where did we come from? Many famous people played an important role in establishing the Restoration Movement: James O'Kelly, Rice Haggard, W. Barton Stone, Walter Scott, and Thomas and Alexander Campbell. But none of them started the Restoration Movement. It would be more accurate to say that in the 18th and 19th centuries, churches all across America started reexamining their beliefs and came to the same conclusions.
The greatest boost for the Restoration Movement came in 1801. W. Barton Stone, a Presbyterian minister, planned and organized an interdenominational revival at an isolated location called "Cane Ridge." Over 20,000 people traveled by foot, horse, and wagon to hear God's word preached by Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, and independent preachers. In sharp contrast to the strict Calvinism dominant in the churches of the day, Stone taught that anyone could be saved by accepting the gospel.
The story of Thomas Campbell helps to illustrate the reason why so many believers across America rejected creeds. Thomas and Alexander came to America from Scotland where the Presbyterian church had divided over such issues as whether or not they should swear an oath to the local Burghers and the authority of civil magistrates in matters of religion. Thomas Campbell found that even though these issues made no sense outside of Scotland, churches outside of Scotland were dividing over the same issues. Denominations were divided by confessional containing hundreds of pages of creeds including many that had no Scriptural basis.
Thomas Campbell's son, Alexander, is one of the most famous evangelists in the Restoration movement. Alexander worked tirelessly to promote the Restoration Movement. In addition to preaching, he printed two periodicals, The Christian Baptist and The Millennial Harbinger, established a seminary, and participated in a number of public debates. His straightforward logic won thousands of converts.
One of the most important contributions that Alexander made was a sermon preached to the Redstone Baptist Association in 1816. The churches of that century made little distinction between the Covenant of Moses and the new covenant established by the death of Jesus Christ. When Alexander's "Sermon on the Law" was published worldwide, it rocked the theological community with the declaration that Christians are not bound to fulfill the regulations of the Mosaic law.
The Restoration Movement started growing at a phenomenal rate, doubling every decade until the beginning of the twentieth century. Early in the twentieth century, the Restoration Movement split into three groups: the non-instrumental Churches of Christ, the independent the Disciples of Christ, and the independent Christian Churches. The non-instrumental churches took an ultraconservative position, essentially denying any practice that was not explicitly promoted in the New Testament. The Disciples of Christ identified with the kind of liberal theology that denied the trustworthiness of the Scripture. The independent Christian Churches remain conservative without demanding that its members agree on matters of opinion.